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ARLOWE stands in the shadow of
Shakespeare: this is surely sufficient reason for his enrolment with our glorious few. For his gifts we value
him—for what he possessed rather than for what he achieved. Too often he is held up to us as merely an impulse-giver, a pathfinder, a sort of poetic engineer, who wildly, vehemently broke up ground which finer spirits should hereafter make rich and fair. We are taught to remember him as the real inventor of our noblest poetic instrument, blank verse, as the creator of English tragedy, as a master whose manner Shakespeare strove to copy and surpass. These are in truth splendid titles, splendid claims to the honour of a people's memory. Yet, if we have gratitude for Marlowe, the worker, we have enthusiasm for Marlowe, the poet. All that he did was done unconsciously ; it was done by virtue of the tremendous poetic force within him We cannot too highly rate such poetic force : in this worn-out, languid age of ours it is rare. Marlowe's freshness, energy, passion, are qualities that our dramatic literature will never again possess in an equal degree. It may be pessimistic to affirm it, yet, as there can never be another Shakespeare, so there can never be another Marlowe-never another dramatist of ours just so brimful of poetic strength and promise. For his rich possessions let us prize him—for his stupendous force and fire, for having in him germs such as those that gave us a Shakespeare, for having in him, as Drayton has grandly said
“ Those brave translunary things
Our actual knowledge of his life could be knit up into a single sentence. We can seize but the facts of its obscure commencement, and of its tragic close. He has, indeed, a particular right to rank with Canterbury Poets, for in Canterbury, on a day in the February of 1564, he was born. The primroses of that April, amid the moss in Avon woods, had not yet lost their beauty before another immortal spirit entered our world—the Englishman, William Shakespeare.
For all of us this must ever be a memorable year. Marlowe's father, a poor shoemaker, was yet able to find a place for his boy in the best school of the city, who passed thence with success to Cambridge. There, after study at Benet (Corpus Christi) College, he took his degrees of B.A. and M.A., leaving the university for London in 1587. Here, by his own choice, he soon became one of those “gentlemen who spend their wits in making plays." Study only seems to have strengthened his repugnance to a disciplined life ; pleasure, the instinct of self-gratification, ruled him; time and gains went, in the phrase from Villon's ballade, Tout aux tavernes et aux filles." Those
brief years of riot are dark for us. It is believed that he was at first an actor, until a broken leg obliged him to write ; perhaps he published dreadful doctrines, railing at God and at religion ; he may even have travelled abroad as a soldier : all these things are likely, and careful editors have produced evidence to prove their truth. Yet they are not as incontestably certain as the writing in the burial-record of a church at Deptford, where stand the sad words: "Christopher Marlowe, slain by Francis Archer, the 16th June 1593." There, in a brothel, came the stop to his reckless life-a cruel stab in the eye while wrangling with a lackey for the kisses of a courtesan. Yet in those six riotous years he gave England six splendid plays : wild, intemperate, as was his own career, and still so charged with high poetry and passion, that the world will never willingly let them die. Greene, Nash, Peele, talented scapegraces all, were working in the same field, writing tales, pamphlets, and plays in hot baste to fend off penury. Marlowe easily distanced his rivals, and rose without effort to be that "famous gracer of tragedians” which